Gray Zones: Diabolical Evil Revisited

Claudia Card

in The Atrocity Paradigm

Published in print October 2002 | ISBN: 9780195145083
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833115 | DOI:
 Gray Zones: Diabolical Evil Revisited

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This chapter proposes, and illustrates, with the idea of gray zones, a more historically accurate conception of diabolical evil than the one rejected by Kant: the deliberate and successful pursuit of others’ moral corruption (as the serpent of Genesis does with Eve), rather than evil for evil's sake (Kant's view). Primo Levi described as “gray zones” the predicaments of prisoners in Nazi death camps who were selected to administer evils to other prisoners in exchange for reductions in or postponements of their own torture and who thereby faced choices between extreme suffering (or immediate and horrible death) and serious moral compromise; the deliberate creation of gray zones, this chapter argues, is a paradigm of diabolical evil. People in gray zones are forced to risk moral corruption in becoming implicated, by their own choices, in perpetrating on others’ evils that threaten to engulf themselves. Gray zones are marked by the presence of severe duress, combinations of evil and innocence, and lack of clarity of one's responsibilities, one's motivations, or what is morally justifiable, given one's options. Outsiders may be in no position to judge gray zone agents, but insiders face better and worse choices and sometimes hold each other accountable; refusing to abdicate responsibility for one's choices in a gray zone works to disrupt cycles of evil.

Keywords: corruption; diabolical evil; duress; gray zones; innocence; Primo Levi; moral compromise; motivation; Nazi death camps; responsibility

Chapter.  12122 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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