We like to think there is such thing as the lesser of two evils. We cite the possibility when we vote. We think it when we decide we’re going to walk past a bad situation. When we stay in a marriage that’s falling apart, at a job we hate… I could continue, but you get the point. At some point in our lives, we transition from the relentless optimism of childhood to the relentless pessimism of adolescence to the “there’s always something worse” of adulthood.
We become neurologically and socially sophisticated enough to delude ourselves. It’s a self-protective measure. We need those if we’re to survive as an individual and as a species.
It’s when those conscious delusions become an alternate reality, though, when we forget to take our armor off from time to time, that we have a problem. When we get comfortable in the limbo of forced acceptance, in the shell of our hoodie and headphones and sunglasses, closed windows, locked doors, and security systems.
In truth, there is no wrong which is less right. There is no darkness that is less dark.
There is no such thing as a lesser evil.
I’d forgotten that until I read this month’s Power Man and Iron Fist #12 by David F. Walker (art by Sanford Greene and Lee Loughridge).
Luke and Danny are trying to fight a war on two fronts, to stop a gang war that may very well destroy Harlem before it’s done. On one side is Tombstone, a street level crook who is rapidly losing territory to newcomers, and on the other Alex Wilder who wants not only territory but absolute control of who walks the neighborhood. Our Heroes for Hire (working gratis, BTW) are between the rivals, trying to figure out how to bring down the baddies and keep everyone safe, knowing that if any of these criminals remain at large, innocent people are going to be hurt, be killed.
But Luke and Danny? They’re only two men. Yes, one of them is essentially indestructible and the other has mystical powers, but they can’t be everywhere and they can’t protect everyone, as much as they might want to, be driven to. So when Tombstone approaches the boys and offers a temporary truce, they agree to sit down and listen. Tombstone reminds them that though he’s a criminal, he’s a criminal of a very specific sort; he’s from the neighborhood, he loves it as much as they do, and while they may not agree with his methods, he has the same goals Luke and Danny do: to keep order and minimize collateral. Wilder, Tombstone reminds them, has proven he has no such concerns, using advanced tech to create new criminal records for reformed gangsters and innocent men. Sparking street battles and prison riots. Doing a lot of Bad Things.
Tombstone never claims to be a good guy. He never claims to be a hero. He does, however, pull the “lesser of two evils” card.
Desperate and maybe as self-deluded, as we are on a daily basis, overwhelmed by responsibility and the number of lives hanging in the balance, Luke and Danny agree to work with Tombstone to take Wilder out. While they certainly don’t trust him, they allow themselves to rely on his intel and to accept him as backup.
Things… don’t go well.
And Luke and Danny are reminded, brutally and painfully, of what I was reminded reading Power Man and Iron Fist #12. That the lesser evil may seem smaller in a given moment but it isn’t “lesser.” Its impact doesn’t stay small. It ripples. It grows. Becomes a massive evil if no one steps in to stop it.
A racial slur is no less evil than an exclusionary law because overlooking the former allows the later to flourish. Moments of fear and ignorance become lifetimes of hatred if we allow them to do so, insidiously under the radar until they aren’t and a whole group of people, a whole nation, a whole religion, is staring down the barrel of a gun with nowhere to run.
Failing to ask a friend why she has bruises on her face isn’t any less a betrayal than ignoring a refugee crisis. Setting aside the pain of an individual may seem easier than putting aside that of a whole group, but groups are made up of individuals. Each is someone who desperately wants a safe life, a quiet life, a life free of abuse and persecution. Every one of them needs help. They need it now. They are all humans, as we are, and anyone who would deliberately harm another human life, who takes pleasure in it, is just as deplorable as another, whether their target is one woman, one child, or an entire people.
It’s an uncomfortable thought, isn’t it? That we toss off crimes against innocent people based on the magnitude of the immediate outcome? I’m uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with the degree to which I managed to convince myself magnitude is the deciding factor, the important part.
But there is no such thing as a lesser evil.
Which means it is incumbent upon us to speak up when we hear a cruel comment, a stereotype, misinformation. Every time. We must educate, illuminate, repeat every time. If you see an injustice, you must step in if you can and are willing, contact the proper authorities if you can’t. Every time. Because that small word, that single gesture, may spark the next genocide if you don’t exterminate it now.
Evil is evil. There is no defining amount of harm makes it so.
Do people have a right to think and say what they want? Yes. But that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for those decisions and those words. Words are not a lesser evil, they are simply one of many.
Luke and Danny don’t realize they’ve failed to see the truth until it’s too late. Can they make different decisions going forward? Absolutely. Can you now shine light on things you’ve ignored in the past? Absolutely. So seize the opportunity. Challenge every evil, dig out the roots before they have the chance to implant and spread. Don’t let them grow, and if they do, cut them down the moment you notice.
Kill that evil. Replace it with something beautiful and new.
Luke and Danny are with you.
And so am I.