Why Mundane Evil is Worse than Exceptional Evil (CW: bullying, mental distress, domestic abuse.)
Hello, Tyler’s readership! I’m Vince, and I write about trans stuff, amongst other things, at my blog Becoming Vincent. [Vince’s blog ] It’s good to be here (thank you, Tyler) and I hope you will come and visit me at home, as it were, when you’re done reading this.
It’s not every day that you get told, at 1:45am on a Thursday, that someone would like you to do a guest post for them by Friday morning. No pressure, eh? 😉 I also had THE most wide-open brief ever, namely “make it about anything at all”.
Well, okeydokey then.
I WAS writing a ‘Lesson with Vince’ on how to go about writing your first novel, but then I saw a post shared on Facebook about how Professor Umbridge was scarier than Voldemort and decided to write instead about how it’s the small, unremarkable acts of malevolence that have the most impact on us day to day. You’re welcome.
Think back to your first ever serious bullying experience. It’s likely that they didn’t go all out with the extreme beatings, at least not at first. And it’s even more likely that they were generally pretty well-liked, thanks to that whole pecking order thing that happens at school – the one your parents swore wouldn’t be an issue as an adult. *laughs hysterically*
If your experience is anything like mine, the bully favoured the stuff that they definitely wouldn’t get into trouble for – whispering about you in front of you and then laughing; being your best mate one day and shunning you the next; ‘accidentally’ telling the whole class that thing you told them that they swore they would carry to their grave; hiding/moving your belongings and pretending they didn’t (that’s called gaslighting, by the way). And it was so fucking PETTY, all this stuff. It was the kind of thing that made you think ‘if I report this, I will sound ridiculous and no-one will take me seriously’. And therein lies the bully’s power. Doing things that can be easily explained away. Unremarkable, boring, snide, banal acts of malevolence that keep you on the edge of sanity and ensure you are utterly unable to name and own your experience because come on – who gets this worked up about someone ‘looking at them funny’?
I’ve encountered a few of these types in my life, and continue to run into them to this day. They’re the micromanaging bosses. The frenemies. The romantic partners who are just enough of a dickhead to you to knock your confidence, but not quite enough for you to justify dumping them. (Word of advice – you don’t need a ‘logical’ reason. If they make you feel like shit, DUMP THEM.) The acquaintances who smile brightly at you while dishing out backhanded compliments left, right and centre. And they’re the people I see doing this shit to people I care about, right in front of my face, while everyone (me included) laughs along with that slightly strained look in their eyes that screams ‘COGNITIVE DISSONANCE!’ because we all know what’s happening and it clashes with our core values, but we aren’t doing anything about it because – well – what can you do, really?
‘Way to shoot me in the heart with that truth, Janis Ian. Image from Mean Girls, copyright Paramount Pictures (2004)’
At least stereotypical villains have the decency to be upfront about it. They sport diabolical beards and swishy capes and sit around stroking fluffy white cats and saying ‘Mua ha har’. They do flashy, newsworthy acts of wickedness like blowing up buildings full of people and attempting to exterminate entire races of people. This is the evil we can all point at and condemn because it’s in-your-face evil. The stuff your stereotypical hero fights against by going on some bold quest, and he will probably end up with a princess’s hand in marriage at the end of it (which would actually suck if he’s a gay hero), not to mention half a kingdom. You can stand against this brand of wrongdoing and be applauded for it. But 98.7% of the time, when you stand up against mundane evil, YOU become the bad guy.
Example: you’re a kid at school, and you see another kid being picked on in one of the ways described in the fifth paragraph of this article. So you march right on up to those mean little bastards and you say, “I know for a fact that you hid Jamie’s maths book because I saw you throwing it into the PE cupboard at the end of Period 4. You’re a bunch of cunts, and you should stop being a bunch of cunts immediately. Jamie, here’s your maths book, by the way.’ At this point, any or all of the following will happen:
(1) Jamie will berate you for sticking your nose in and will never talk to you again.
(2) The bullies will turn on you and kick your arse, and now YOUR books are going to start going missing.
(3) A teacher will have walked past and heard you use the C-word (twice!), and will now immediately give you detention without bothering to find out what led up to the incident.
(4) The rest of the class will tease you about your supposed ‘crush’ on Jamie and accuse them of being unable to fight their own battles, thus ensuring even further that Jamie will keep as much distance from you as possible (which is a shame because they are kinda cute).
(5) You will get a reputation for being ‘argumentative’ and ‘intolerant’, and this will become so solidified that even your year head will state on your school report that you need to “work on becoming more sympathetic towards [your] peers”.
(6) At some point, about two years down the line, someone will come up to you and whisper that they thought you did the right thing, all the while furtively looking around in case anyone hears them committing such sacrilege. This person will then shun you for the rest of your school years in case they are tainted by association.
(7) Your parents will get to hear about what happened and lecture you about how “the best tactic for dealing with bullies is to ignore them”.
Mundane evil. It’s the worst kind. I’d FAR rather be tortured in a Castle of Despair surrounded by a Fiery Lake of Certain Destruction by someone in a spiky catsuit while an End of the World Countdown goes on in big digital numbers right in front of my face, than be saddled in a crappy relationship with a man who times me going to the fucking shops (without telling me how long he expects me to be gone for, mind) and then accuses me of cheating on him if I’m back two minutes ‘late’. The first scenario can be resolved by my heroic posse rescuing me and then defeating the villain with their own death ray, and then the people will rejoice at our having rid the world of such a monster. Try telling someone about the second scenario and at best you’ll get a “Man, that sucks” and an abrupt change of subject; at worst it’ll be “Well, at least he never hit you.”
FYI: I’d rather someone just hit me. At least that’s the kind of horribleness that gets a reaction from the world at large. So do me a favour, aspiring evildoers, and at least make your nastiness interesting. It’s the least you can do.