The Dichotomy of Good & Evil

Sarah McMahon
5 min readMar 27

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

On a recent flight that was delayed many hours, I sat staring out the window listening to a series of downloaded podcasts by Jordan Peterson. He manages to seem sure of himself while also contemplative; certainty mixed with a sense of possibly changing his mind. His is an appealing temperament, whether or not you agree with him.

Peterson, in a debate with Slavoj Zizek, said, “The light that you discover in your life is proportionate to the amount of darkness you are willing to forthrightly confront.” As if light and darkness were on opposite sides of a double pan scale. Maybe they are. “Every horrible thing done by human beings was done by human beings,” Peterson continues, “So it stands to reason that human beings are capable of horrible things, and you’re one of them.”

You are a human being capable of horrible things, and I am, and he is, too. We all have the capacity for evil only because we all have the capacity for good as well. It might be impossible to know one without the other, just as it is impossible to understand darkness without the day, or joy without sorrow, or sour without sweet.

Peterson’s debate with Zizek reminded me of a field trip my third grade class took to a cave. A guide, our teachers, and a couple of chaperones shepherded 60 kids through the damp, dark cave, calmly explaining stalactites and stalagmites, warning us not to touch anything, and ordering us to hush up and listen, please. When we got as far into the cave as sixty third-graders could go, the guide told us that she was going to show us what real darkness looked like. Not the darkness that happens in our homes, when all the lights are off but streetlights glow outside, or the TV murmurs, or the moon casts shadows over walls and through doorways. No, the guide said, the darkness in a cave is so deep that we wouldn’t be able to see our own hands in front of our faces. She turned the lights off and a hush fell over us. We couldn’t see our hands. We couldn’t see anything. This is what it must feel like to be blind, I thought.

When we emerged from the cave, I felt like a mole exiting the earth. It was discomfiting to transition from extreme darkness to the bright nakedness of a sunny spring day. In the darkness, we were each so alone, and in the…

Sarah McMahon

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