The knowledge of good and bad is different from the knowledge of good and evil.
The difference is not easily explained except by metaphysicians and philosophers, and even then, as you might imagine, there is not widespread agreement. You get a bunch of metaphysicians and philosophers together, and they squabble like a bunch of scientists. I think they would do this even if they were not competing for grant money. It's their nature.
For the layman, I guess the best way to put it is, evil is really, really scary, and perhaps supernaturally so - Stephen King knows all about it - whereas bad is run of the mill, a drag, but hardly surprising. Compare the Evil One, evil eye and Dr. Evil with a bad apple, bad boy, bad hair day. Evil, being pure, is more worthy of capitalization.
Evil is rare, at least on the earthly plane. Many people don't even believe in it.
Another thing about evil: It isn't quantifiable. There are no degrees of evil. Either it is, or it isn't. Something can be pretty good or pretty bad. Good, better, best. Bad, worse, worst. Evil is evil.
And then there is the thorny question of right from wrong. No age in history has ever lacked its share of curmudgeons going on about how young people have not been taught right from wrong. I think that most people do know right from wrong, but there is not widespread agreement about some of the finer points. My rule of thumb is to consider whether I personally have ever committed a certain act or am likely to do so in the future. If the answer is yes, I always say, "Well, that's normal."
Legally, I believe - this is something I have picked up from television - perpetrators of heinous, even evil, acts that clearly no sane person could possibly commit, are not found to be legally insane if they are shown "to know right from wrong." This method of evaluating mental health bewilders many of us, but generally we don't complain too much because, for example, Charles Manson is still in prison, right? It gives us one less thing to think about at 3 in the morning.
This brings me to the subject of a book I just read titled "Confessions of a Sociopath: Hiding in Plain Sight," by M.E. Thomas (not her real name). I am fascinated by sociopaths, who, as far as I can determine, are basically the same as psychopaths. Some people hold that sociopaths, because they are unable to feel compassion for others or guilt for their actions, should not be liable for any crimes against society they may happen to commit.
In her book, the putative M.E. Thomas refers to nonpsychopathic people as "empaths," as though the rest of us were the abnormal ones. Even toddlers, however, learn that it isn't nice to bite people. Like tiny psychopaths, they may not understand why; biting may seem like a good idea at the time. The point is, they do understand that biting is considered wrong. I say, hold sociopaths accountable.
The woman who wrote "Confessions of a Sociopath" spoke on National Public Radio, and appeared on Dr. Phil. Unfortunately, among the characteristic traits of sociopaths, along with maintaining overlong, intimidating eye contact, is lying, so I don't know if I've learned anything from reading her book and listening to her on NPR.
Even if we empaths don't spend a lot of time analyzing good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil, we know what we know.
Tent caterpillars are bad, for example, even if they don't permanently damage the trees where they spend their idyllic larvaehood. I don't care that they eventually morph into lovely, or at least innocuous, little mothlets. It should be obvious to one and all that tent caterpillars fall smack dab into the category of "bad bugs."
We all know the good bugs from the bad bugs. Butterflies, honey bees, lady bugs and fireflies are good. Blackflies and mosquitoes are bad. So are tomato hornworms and Japanese beetles and those little red lily beetles.
In my book, earwigs, as well as certain politicians, are in all probability evil.
And what about the weather? Right now, outside the window, it is pouring rain, melting the thick layer of ice we have been sliding around on for weeks. Good. But later today the puddles will freeze over, and we'll have more ice. Bad.
Have a good week.